“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”
– Henry Miller
Eco-tourism is defined by the World Conservation Union as “Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promotes conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local people.” In most cases, this is crucial to conservation because revenue from the industry allows for the protection of national parks and other natural areas. Tourism can only be sustainable when it is a closely monitored, otherwise, these adverse effects weigh on the community and the environment. Iceland may be experiencing these effects the most.
After the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, tourism in Iceland began to boom. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of visitors in 2016. Tourism has become the country’s main source of income, overtaking the fishing industry. Sites that were once forgotten and were allowed to flourish, are now being stormed by tourists – who put enormous pressure on these environments. The three main problems tourism has created in Iceland are depletion of natural resources, pollution, and other physical impacts. Unlike ecotourism, most tourists visiting Iceland to enjoy the scenery and nature are not conscious about the negative impacts they are making, nor do they strive to benefit the local communities or support local conservation efforts. The lack of appropriate planning and management has put a strain on limited resources and space which negatively affects the local populations of the area.
In 2017 alone, around two million tourists have visited this small country, home to just 335,000 inhabitants. Many of the locals are upset and express frustration with the destructive behavior of tourists. As a result, road infrastructure cannot cope, hotels are saturated, the explosion of Airbnb has raised the price of housing, and young people struggling to find affordable housing are leaving the country.
Iceland is known for its clean fresh water which may be compromised in the future. The sudden influx of people has also increased the amount of litter, air, and noise pollution. People consume more water when they travel than at home. Hotels, swimming pools, and golf courses, overuse water, which creates water shortages and a great volume of wastewater or sewage pollution.In drier regions, like the Mediterranean water scarcity is more of a concern and Iceland is known for its clean fresh water which can be compromised in the future.
The process of upgrading tourist infrastructure is necessary for the busiest areas of Iceland but affects its natural characteristics and scenic landscapes. Tourism also places stress on local resources; Iceland is forced to rely on imports in order to sustain its visitors. Tourist activities leave physical impacts, such as trampling the vegetation and soil, which can reduce local biodiversity.
How can this it affect the native wildlife? One significant way is the introduction of invasive species or pathogens has the potential to wipe out an entire species. Learn more by watching the video below:
The government is currently implementing strategies to come up with solutions that will allow the country to benefit from the increased revenue generated by tourism along with preserving its natural sites.Travel is important because exposes us to new cultures and experiences that take us out of our comfort zone, allowing for personal education, activism, and appreciation of local cultures and biodiversity; making people more enthusiastic and effective agents of conservation. It is necessary to generate revenue from sources other than tourism to protect natural areas and the local economy.
Before you travel to a new place, consider taking the “Sustainable Tourism Pledge”: https://www.wmf.org/sustainable-tourism-pledge
Written by Samantha Sing